Jesus says that making disciples means "going" into the whole world and "baptizing and teaching them to obey" (Matthew 28:18-20). This means the mission of Christ is for every people group, every nook and cranny of every cultrue if you please. As some of you know he literally says "as you are going" into the world this is what you are to do. This clearly means his followers will be going if they are following faithfully, so when they do go what they must be sure to do, as his people, is "make disciples." Churches have failed this task for centuries. Even the most evangelical churches are often content to hold services, care for their own, and in many cases simply buy and develop real estate and build institutions to be preserved. Intentionally penetrating culture appears to me to have been a clear hallmark of Jesus’ ministry. He was so involved in his own culture that the religious elite called him a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19). Jesus transformed lives by directly engaging with, and in, culture. He met sinners where they lived and worked so he could bring life to them.
This mandate means that contemporary, and culturally nuanced, venues are always called for if missional theology has any bearing upon us at all. We must create and develop new opportunities to meet, and build relationships with, people in the context of where we live. We must speak to them so they understand. We must "incarnate" the gospel, as many great thinkers have aptly put it. This is often the greatest challenge the church faces outside of humbly seeking God and giving itself to the Lordship of Christ, which always precedes everything else.
Jesus and the gospel are not just about individual transformation. The gospel demands that all of life, which means all aspects of culture, be brought under his authority. So when we make disciples we should do so in ways that recognize this truth accordingly. The evangelical Church has typically avoided culture out of fear (fundamentalism), or imitated it poorly in hopes of using it to reach people (seeker evangelicalism). The results are generally devastating for real mission. Believers need to lead and create culture in Christ’s name. They do this through a strong and clear strategy of engagement and cultural mission. Some newer churches, called emergent churches by those who use such names, are beginning to understand this truth in fresh ways. I expect these churches will make many of us uncomfortable for some very good reasons. I also expect some emergent churches will mess up along the way. While all this is unfolding over the next few years I urge everyone who cares about the mission of Christ’s church to pray for these leaders who are saying something extremely important to the world, and to the rest of us. I am trying to listen and learn from these folks precisely because I believe they have understood a major part of the agenda of Jesus very clearly and they are pursuing obedience to Christ on purpose.
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